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Attracting and Retaining Technical Women

Confident business woman workingBy Melissa J. Anderson

“Our economy depends on women being at the table creating technology,” said Dr. Telle Whitney, President and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. She continued, “The innovation that will drive the future is in your hands.”

Dr. Whitney was the keynote speaker at The Glass Hammer’s event Tuesday night entitled “Women on Top: The Newest Innovation in Technology.”

The event, sponsored by Barclays Capital and American Express, was held at the Barclays Capital headquarters in New York. Moderated by Avis Yates Rivers, President and CEO of Technology Concepts Group, the panel speakers included Sarah Sherber; Head of Securitized Products IT and Cross Product Operations Technology, Barclays Capital; Linda Albornoz, B2B Payment Solutions, American Express Technologies; Augusta Sanfilippo, Managing Director, Cash Securities Operations IT, Citi; and Mary Cecola, CIO Asset Management Business Solutions, Deutsche Bank.

One main point the women on the panel drove home was the importance of maintaining current on technical knowledge. In fact, according to ABI’s recent report, “Senior Technical Women: A Profile of Success,” “being recognized as a technical expert is critically important to growing a technical career.”

Cecola said, “It’s so important to keep technology in your background. Even as I’ve moved into management, I’ve stayed up to date on the latest in technology.”

Albornoz said that even now, as a manager, she continues to reach back to her coding days. She explained, “Being able to translate technology terms into business terms will serve you well.”

Sherber agreed. “My success has largely been the result of my ability to translate something a trader wanted into a system.”

The ABI report encourages companies to play to individual women’s strengths, ensuring they are working in areas where they are technically skilled. The report explains: “Putting women in positions where they are experts in specific technical areas is another point of intervention for companies, and women seeking to advance should pursue these opportunities.”

Finally, an important part of attracting and retaining technical women is providing continued learning and development courses, even at the senior levels. The report explains:

“Opportunities to update technical skills is a critical work value for senior women operating in companies with constant technological change. Eighty three percent of senior men, 80 percent of senior women and 84.8 percent of entry/mid-level technical women share this value. Regardless of the fact that women are more likely than men at the high level to be in management positions, senior technical women know that their ongoing advancement is contingent upon being technically up to date.”

Providing continual opportunities for technical learning is one way to retain and develop women in technology. But it’s also an important way to keep knowledge in the company while seeking new ways to respond to customer needs.

Yates Rivers explained, “My customers are always talking about driving value and driving innovation.”

Albornoz said, “You always have to be thinking from the customer’s point of view and from the market. You can be entranced by technology, but at the end of the day it has to have business value.” She explained, “It can be nifty technology, but when you’re communicating it to your clients, focus on the bottom line.”

Cecola said, “You can be very innovative in your job with or without the technical point of view. I think innovation is about being creative and being open to understanding what can be changed and what can’t be changed and coming together in the middle.”

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